Parkinson’s is stereotypically associated with shuffling steps, tremors, stiffness in arms and legs, slowness of movement, needing a walker, frequent falls and a slow decline of mobility. Parkinson’s Disease symptoms will vary from person to person. Early signs may be mild and go unnoticed. Symptoms often begin affecting one side of the body and usually get worse on the same side, even after symptoms begin to affect both sides.
Unfortunately, those with this disease are always told to be careful. The physical interpretation of “being careful” is often that individuals begin to utilize exceedingly small movements and restrict their activities. This limited movement encourages more prevalent symptoms. Shuffling steps is one of the most common symptoms of Parkinson’s and it is thought to cause shuffling gait. It is partially true, but the real cause of shuffling gait is weak legs. Increasing leg strength is the key to having an easier time picking up and controlling one’s feet. Instead of being told to be “careful,” it would be more helpful to encourage “building and maintaining leg strength.”
Loss of executive function is another symptom of Parkinson’s. This is often demonstrated with having difficulty with planning and decision making. Falling often occurs due to the inability to react fast enough to get out of a “bad” situation. When leg weakness is present, an individual is required to problem solve in a step-by-step fashion. Conversely, when legs are strong, the body naturally reacts and eliminates the need for the brain to analyze the situation. For example: if a person has strong legs they can easily stand up from a chair. However, if individuals are weak they need to think of ways to make it easier (e.g., scoot forward in chair, flexing at trunk). This is difficult for many with Parkinson’s to do. It often leads to freezing and frustration; thus, increasing the risk of falls and diminishing quality of life.
People with Parkinson’s Disease may experience low blood pressure (hypotension) at some point during their disease progression. Orthostatic hypotension, also called postural hypotension, can be experienced when changing positions (e.g., moving from lying down or sitting to standing up). This can occur because Parkinson’s can impair the body’s natural reflex mechanism that causes automatic adjustments of your blood pressure when one changes position. Also, some Parkinson’s medications can lower blood pressure. Blood pressure decreases when blood vessels relax or lose their ability to constrict. Normal blood pressure range is usually 100/60 to 140/90. Some people will not experience any warning signals and drops in blood pressure below 100/60 may result in dizziness, lightheadedness or weakness. Severe, hypotension can lead to fainting and/or falling. It is important to notify the doctor if any of these symptoms are experienced, because often medications can be prescribed to raise blood pressure to a normal range, preventing possible falls.
Medicare Physical Therapy is regularly prescribed to assist with mobility, and it initially helps, but if consistent improvement is not demonstrated, it is stopped. That doesn’t bode well for individuals living with Parkinson’s. Research indicates that a consistent strength-training exercise program is needed to build and maintain leg strength ensuring a better quality of life. A home exercise program is difficult for many to start on their own and even if individuals are able to start an exercise program, it is very difficult to continually challenge oneself. Leg strength is essential to living an independent lifestyle when one has been diagnosed with a movement-restricting condition like Parkinson’s Disease.
One of the most frustrating aspects about Parkinson’s is that the symptoms and their severity vary day to day. Strong legs help overcome many of the symptoms associated with Parkinson’s leading to fewer “bad days.” Maintaining sufficient strength not only helps to reduce the risk of falling, makes walking easier and lowers the need for in-home care; it ensures a more rewarding, social and engaging life.
Tandem Strength & Balance provides strength and balance exercises that are custom-designed to meet the needs of the individual living with chronic medical issues. We promote independence, increasing self-confidence and the ability to “live life the way you want to live it” for as long as possible. Don’t hesitate to contact us by phone, online or in person. It’s important to understand that those living with Parkinson’s disease can improve, regardless of age or diagnosis.